With its strategic position at the intersection of the Middle East and Southern Mediterranean, and straddling the vital Suez Canal, Egypt has been a key regional economy for thousands of years. Despite facing multiple ongoing challenges, the World Bank has reported good rates of positive economic growth, and a recent push by the Egyptian government to encourage foreign investment has resulted in growing interest from international businesses.
In particular, the recent introduction of the “Golden Licence”, a new streamlined process to enable overseas investment in certain strategic sectors, has simplified the process for purchasing land and setting up a business, as well as providing significant discounts for projects fitting its requirements. However, many issues remain such as the high rate of inflation, alleged human rights violations and the uncertainty surrounding the creation of the New Administrative Capital.
As one of the most prominent economies in the Middle East, Egypt has a robust company information system by the standards of the region, but some significant gaps and restrictions remain. Extracts can be ordered from the Commercial Registry department of the Ministry of Supply and Internal Trade for a relatively low fee, though unfortunately this is still an offline process. This extract contains information on directors and key management personnel, related entities and other standard data such as the registered address and trading names of the firm. Some shareholder information is publicly available–typically the names of all significant shareholders and issued share capital–but precise breakdowns of ownership are unavailable. A central UBO register has been implemented and UBO data is collected from companies, but this information is not yet publicly available, which constitutes a significant barrier to transparency.
While on paper the standard of information available in Egypt is relatively high, a discussion of corporate transparency in the country cannot be divorced from the high levels of corruption reported by international observers. Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index ranks Egypt as 130th out of 180 countries in its 2022 rankings. Its corruption score (with a rating of 0 indicating a high level of corruption and 100 meaning a complete lack of corruption) declined by 3 points to 30/100 between 2021 and 2022.
Following the events of the Arab Spring, a significant proportion of the domestic economy has been run by the Egyptian military. Its estimated budget of $4.4 billion is independent of government scrutiny, and therefore it is extremely hard to confirm which commercial interests are owned, backed or otherwise assisted by the military. Similarly, any attempt by journalists or civil society organisations to query this budget is blocked on grounds of national security. Large infrastructure projects like the expansion of the Suez Canal and the New Administrative Capital Project are run for the most part by the military or companies affiliated with the military, generating substantial revenues. Military-affiliated companies are exempt from taxes, which contributes to a situation where some of the largest and most important firms in the country are beyond any possible scrutiny.
Legal records in Egypt are difficult to access and, unlike common law countries, there are no reports or dedicated journals that publish court judgements. While judgements of the Supreme Court are available online, as well as some selected judgements available via the case law database in the National Legislation Portal, all other court databases are offline and require a physical visit to access. Cases from most courts can be searched at the physical registries, but it can be difficult to conduct a comprehensive search, especially since, as previously mentioned, national security can often be invoked in order to restrict the transparency of what would otherwise be standard criminal cases.
Media freedom in Egypt is severely restricted, with the country ranking 168th of 180 countries for press freedom in 2022 according to Reports without Borders World Press Freedom Index. The most popular newspapers in the country are state-owned and echo the government’s stance, a pattern that is largely repeated with TV- or internet-based media, with nearly all outlets owned directly by the government or its political allies. The rare independent outlets that do not conform to censorship are blocked, including Mada Masr which has been inaccessible from inside Egypt since 2017. Charges of “disseminating false information” or “belonging to a terrorist organisation” are commonly levelled against independent journalists and have led to Egypt being labelled one of the biggest jailers of journalists worldwide. Even outside of regular prison sentences, abuse of pre-trial detention or probation measures are often used to threaten or coerce journalists into self-censorship.